Replacing hope with certainty

One of the mysterious iron eyebolts found embedded in the bedrock of Star Island. They were possibly used as moorings by the original inhabitants of the Isles of Shoals. They certainly would provide a solid hold on the island. Photo by Jack Farrell

December 2022

By Jack Farrell

With a long winter ahead of us, one of the best ways to keep in touch with a passion for the ocean is to read about it. Ever since I bought my first little sailboat over 45 years ago, I have supplemented the school of experience with winter reading about sailing and seamanship. One of my very favorite books about boats and maritime skills is Roger Taylor’s “The Elements of Seamanship.”

As a retired Naval officer (in submarines and destroyers), publisher of marine books, marine educator, professional delivery captain and “certified boat nut,” Roger Taylor has a lot to teach us. Chapters in his delightful little book are titled according to the range of necessary skills Capt. Taylor thought we should know more about: “Keeping the Water Out,” “Keeping Her Going,” Keeping from Hitting Anything.” In “Keeping Her Where You Want Her,” he devotes an entire chapter to the art, science and peace of keeping your boat securely in one place.

I once stepped aboard a passenger sailboat docked in front of a hotel on a busy saltwater river, about to become the standby captain. The owner showed me around the rig, the engine and the systems prior to the first trip. He then described the typical tourist cruise down the busy, crowded river, out to sea and back again.

We went over electronics, life jacket stowage and other safety gear. We reviewed the proven methods for getting on and off the dock as the current flowed swiftly past. I thought about various “Plan Bs” in the event of engine failure in the tight channel. There was an undersized Danforth anchor in chocks on the bow, but no rode attached. There was so little space between moored boats that sailing in the river would be next to impossible. We didn’t leave the dock until the anchor was shackled up and ready to deploy.

In my forty-five years around Piscataqua, I have had to drop the hook in emergency conditions only twice in the fast current. The first time was during a November squall on haul-out day in our 35-foot wooden sloop. The old (and soon-to-be-replaced) Palmer gasoline engine was in a mood again that day. She gave up the challenge entirely, with a final sputter, just off the craggy rusting pilings of the salt pier, with snow falling sideways in the gusts. The anchor was promptly let go, and we swung around to a sharp stop a hundred feet or so from the formidable pier – with the river running past at four or five knots. When the commercial towboat arrived almost an hour later, the anchor was set so deep in the bottom that it took all the power of the rescue boat and another ten minutes of hypothermia in the blowing snow to break it free.

We lost steering on Star Island’s old 37-ton Perseverance one May afternoon in front of the Portsmouth Coast Guard station. Even in the lighter current out by the river’s mouth, the big Danforth set so hard that we had to leave it behind on a buoy when our friends from Appledore Island arrived to tow us back up the river.

(We soon learned that Appledore’s jet drive commuter boat J B Heiser was too small to tow the much heavier Perseverance, so we adopted a hybrid approach wherein Perseverance provided the forward thrust and the Heiser pulled the bow left and right around the bends in the channel for the few miles back to our dock.)

When it was time to choose ground tackle for Shining Star, these incidents on our home waters came to mind. The standard tables suggested a Danforth-style anchor of 50 pounds or more – plus at least 20 pounds of chain.

In the absence of a windlass, and in consideration of the frequency of operating the new boat with a limited (or zero) crew, I knew that such a rig would be too heavy to manage. The answer was an aluminum Fortress anchor to be rigged and mounted on the foredeck, ready to deploy in seconds. The 21-pound Fortress boasts holding power equal to a standard anchor three times its weight. This anchor should keep the Shining Star where we want her in anything short of a gale, with the reasonable expectation of short-handed retrieval.

Roger Taylor advocated carrying another anchor “big enough to hold the vessel, gale or not.” For this, we ship an old-fashioned 60-pound fisherman-style fluked anchor, broken down and stowed in the hold with a good length of heavy chain at the head of its rode. I bought this anchor for the same job on the old Hurricane from a would-be pirate marine trader who claimed as part of the haggling that it had come off his old grandmother’s schooner “and is, as you might expect, dear to me heart….” While I will likely never need to use it, it’s comforting to know it’s aboard. But I’d never get that rig off the bottom alone, and neither would that pirate’s grandmother.


2022 season comes to an end

The first days of November were unsettlingly warm as the last of the 2022 crew left Star Island, the unofficial capital of the Isles of Shoals. The dirty, dangerous and essential final work of the annual shutdown was undertaken by one of the best crews in years: our crusty and capable island engineer and five young women. Tears were shed as Shining Star pulled away from the pier loaded with 28 barrels of kitchen grease, three large totes of trash and a pallet of personal effects. Some will return next season, but it’s hard to predict who.

The Shoals breakwater project appears to be on track for 2023 construction. The widening breaches in the grey granite walls bring to mind just how tenuous the holding ground must have been in this harbor before the breakwaters closed it off from the sea. In a time when the island supported hundreds of fishermen and scores of large vessels, it’s hard to comprehend how the fleet could have been secured in the face of a free-running ocean.

That may be one explanation for the great iron eyebolts embedded in the bedrock still to be found here and there along the shoreline. Taylor advises that while the anchor is the symbol of hope, it is best to replace hope with certainty by using the biggest one you can. Perhaps the old Shoalers thought the island itself was the best hope of all.

Jack was the manager at Star Island for many years. He currently manages major construction and utility projects there and provides all-season boat service to the island (averaging 250 trips per year) for luggage, food, employees, supplies and guests. He also runs Seacoast Maritime Charters, LLC providing year-round private charter boat service and marine logistics to the general public, now in the Shining Star. Jack still enjoys cruising in his classic Ted Hood sloop, Aloft, and teaching skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine.